Scientist of the Week - Week One

Choosing a scientist to begin the first week of Scientist of the Week was difficult but after a lot of thinking and contemplating, I have chosen…………… Marie Curie! The first woman to win a Nobel peace prize.

Key Research
X-ray work during WW1
Nobel Peace Prizes

Marie Curie, born in Warsaw on 7 November 1867, is a Polish-born physicist and chemist. Curie was the youngest of five children. She studied at Warsaw’s clandestine Floating University and began her scientific training in Warsaw.

Later in 1891, Curie’s sister offered her temporary accommodation in Paris and she immediately took up the offer and moved to Paris, France where she started her studies in Sorbonne University where she read physics and mathematics and earned higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work.

In 1894 Marie met Pierre Curie in Paris (a scientist working in the city) and they married a year later. Pierre and Marie had two daughters; Irene (born 1898) and Eve (born 1904).
On 4 July 4 1934, at the Sancellemoz Sanatorium in Passy, France at the age of 66, Marie Curie died of pernicious anaemia, a condition she developed after years of exposure to radiation through her work.

The Discovery of Polonium and Radium

Six months after their marriage Marie Curie found the topic of her thesis: Uranium rays - carrying on research from a new discovery by Professor Henri Becquerel.
Marie Curie was the first person to give radioactivity its name. Before more radioactive elements had been discovered, only uranium was known.  The first lady of science obtained a mineral called pitchblende which is called so because it is black. Curie knew that it was radioactive and contained uranium but she wanted to understand what other element(s) was responsible for its radioactivity.  

Pierre joined Marie in her work with pitchblende where they ground and separated the different elements present and eventually they extracted a black powder, three hundred and thirty times more radioactive than uranium, which they called Polonium (atomic number 84). Marie named the newly discovered element, Polonium after her home country, Poland.
In 1898 the Curies published strong evidence for the discovery of Radium, even though they didn't have any sample for it. Marie Curie then bought several tonnes of uranium-extracted pitchblende and started to extract tiny quantities of radium. In 1902 Marie finally isolated radium after a long and grueling journey.

In World War 1, Marie Curie worked to develop small, mobile X-ray units that could be used to diagnose injuries near the battlefront. She worked with her daughter Irene, then aged 17, at casualty clearing stations close to the front line, X-raying wounded men to locate fractures, bullets and shrapnel.

Marie Curie was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1903 in physics with husband Pierre Curie and jointly with Prof. Henri Becquerel (for their work on radiation phenomena) and again 1911 in chemistry (for discovering the element Polonium and Radium), making her the first woman in science history to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Marie Curie definitely deserves to be the first Scientist of the Week for not only her hard work in radiation (and sacrificing her health for research) but also for becoming an outspoken advocate for women in the sciences.

“It is my earnest desire that some of you should carry on this scientific work and keep for your ambition the determination to make a permanent contribution to science.”

-          Marie Curie